State Sen. Mike Stack, state Reps. Kevin and Brendan Boyle and bakers’ union leaders today promised to do everything they can to make sure the half-century-old former Kraft plant at Byberry and the Boulevard doesn’t close, taking away the smell of baking Oreos and about 300 union jobs.
Since Wednesday, that’s been the fear, even though a Mondelez International spokeswoman maintained no decision has been made yet to close a plant that opened in 1956 as a Nabisco bakery.
Mondelez, which split off from Kraft late last year, is just beginning to discuss consolidation of its manufacturing with its unions and only looking at the “potential” of closing the Philly plant, spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati said in a phone interview this afternoon.
Nothing is certain yet, she said.
What’s certain, the elected officials said in a news conference outside the plant, is that they don’t want the plant’s ovens to cool, and that they want the state and the city to negotiate with the company to induce it to stay in Philadelphia.
Guzzinati said Mondelez, whose well-known brands include Oreos, Ritz crackers, Teddy Grahams, Cadbury chocolates and Tang, is considering expanding its baking facilities in Fairlawn, N.J., and Richmond, Va., but Stack and the Boyle brothers said there is plenty of room in Northeast Philly, and the company could grow right here.
There are several industrial properties not far away from the plant, Kevin Boyle said.
The Boulevard bakery is zoned light industrial, and much of that type of zoning in the city is concentrated nearby.
The company could produce more at its Boulevard plant, said John Lazar, president of the plant’s baker’s union local. He said only four ovens are being operated right now, and the plant has eight.
IT STARTED WEDNESDAY
This is all just beginning, Guzzinati said, stressing again that no decision has been made. Company executives have told city officials that they have no immediate plans to leave Philadelphia, said Mark McDonald, Mayor Michael Nutter’s spokesman. He said city officials and Mondelez executives intend to meet, but no date has been set. Stack and the Boyles said likewise.
Lazar said plant manager Rusty Moore on Wednesday told employees the plant’s closing was a strong possibility. “They told us they want to shore up East Coast” operations, he said today.
That announcement “came out of the blue,” Lazar said Thursday.
If Mondelez does leave Philly, Lazar said, several hundred good-paying jobs will leave with it.
“That would be an outrageous thing,” Stack said.
Especially, Brendan Boyle said, since what he called “an iconic building in the Northeast” is a profitable building for Mondelez.
He said Mondelez is not in bad financial shape.
“They’re actually doing quite well,” he said.
There’s no reason, he said, for hundreds of “good, family-sustaining jobs” to leave Philadelphia, Brendan Boyle said.
Workers earn $24 to $26 hourly at the plant that for years was Nabisco and once the Northeast’s tallest building. “These are good, middle-class jobs with good benefits and good health plans,” Lazar said.
“This company is rooted in this area,” Stack said. “It is connected to the basic stability of this area.”
Generations of families worked at the plant, Lazar said. “People came here and stayed 40 years,” said Lazar, who put in 30 years before becoming president of Local 492 of the Bakery, Tobacco and Confectionery Workers’ Union.
“Two hundred and seventy-seven of the local’s members currently are working on the Boulevard,” Lazar said. About 100 were laid off in the past year or so.
Lazar plans to meet with members of the Verree Road-based local on Sunday. He expects the international union, which negotiated a contract for six American Mondelez bakeries, will be talking to the company. ••